The dreams of childhood — its airy fables; its graceful beautiful, humane, impossible adornments of the world beyond; so good to be believed in once, so good to be remembered when outgrown, for then the least among them rises to the stature of a great Charity in the Heart . . . — what had [Louisa] to do with these? Remembrances . . . of how, first coming upon Reason through the tender light of Fancy, she had seen it a beneficent god, deferring to gods as great as itself: not a grim Idol, cruel and cold, with its victims bound hand to foot, and its big dumb shape set up with a sightless stare, never to be moved by anything but so many calculated tons of leverage — what had she to do with these? Her remembrances of home and childhood were remembrances of the drying up of every spring and fountain in her young heart as it gushed out. The golden waters were not there. — Charles Dickens, Hard Times
In the opening pages of Hard Times, the novel Dickens dedicated to Carlyle, the sadistic relationship of machine to man is imitated by a teacher and his pupil. Commanded by Gradgrind to define a horse, Bitzer jerks up and responds, "Quadruped, graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye teeth, and twelve incisive," and so forth. The fragmented sentences and the enumerated teeth reflect the oral-sadistic style of Gradgrind, whose verbal explosions Dickens compares with those of "a cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts." Since this "teaching" is antithetical to feeding, Gradgrind acts out the biblical image of the father who gave his son stones for bread — or, since the students are compared to pitchers, he fills them with boiling oil instead of water: "Say, good M'Choakumchild. When from thy boiling store thou shalt fill each jar brimful by-and-by, dost thou think that thou wilt always kill outright the robber Fancy lurking within — or sometimes only maim him and distort him?" Bullets instead of seeds, drought instead of water, hollow vessel and maimed robber instead of a strong self — of these unnatural substitutions Dickens builds his tragedy of blighted growth and forfeited paternity, the pattern [194/195] of which extends beyond the classroom into all of Coketown: the "mechanical apparatus" of Gradgrind's jaw and the "elephant" of mills are alike emblems of mechanical oppression, while the empty jars in the classroom connect with the abandoned coal pits and other instances of hollowness into a general image of Nature undermined — the green fields made hungry as the grave. The Idol Reason, finally, blends into the Moloch machine of Coketown to form a single, horrific image devouring both child and workman alike. But weakness, not power, is the prevalent theme of this book. The factory is a "melancholy, monotonous elephant," and its opponent, a very frail thing, is the robber Fancy, which becomes for Dickens the guardian of morality and, finally, a synecdoche of the whole life of the Spirit.
We can only imagine the shock of recognition with which Ruskin must have read this book, for it contains the pattern of his own buried life. And it may have spurred him on to a boldly metaphorical style of attack in his own book on the Gradgrind system. In a well-known footnote to Unto This Last, Ruskin praises the essential "truth" of Dickens's method, which he likens to a "circle of stage fire"; but is not Ruskin's whole conception of political economists a mere caricature of vice, bereft of the novelists' license to fictionalize? In response to a letter suggesting that he moderate his language, he characteristically redoubled his attack, calling political economy the damnedest lie the Devil had invented, except for the "theory of Sanctification." "To this 'science' and to this alone (the professed and organised pursuit of Money) is owing all the evil of modern days. I say All. . . . It is the Death incarnate of Modernism" (XVII, lxxxii). These are the accents of the Carlylean prophet and of the centuries-old tradition of the sermon against Mammon, yet Ruskin's object is also John Stuart Mill and a very specific body of doctrine calling for specific refutation. The difficulty of Ruskin's contemporary audience remains our own. To simplify matters, we might call Unto This Last two books rather than one. On the one hand it is a contribution to social science — an argument for interference from a benevolent government and an attack on the worst features of competitive capitalism, using the logic of the economists to subvert their own principles. On the other, it is a moral and metaphorical argument, fusing the language of romanticism and Evangelicalism into a vision of redemption in the face of damnation, the damnation occasioned by both the Devil's lies of Mammonism and [195/196] sanctification. The book may or may not therefore seem impractical. James Sherburne, for example, has stated unequivocally, "If Ruskin is sentimental and impractical, most forms of modern political and social organization are the same. For Ruskin outlines the shape of things to come more clearly than any other English thinker of the nineteenth century" (237). For most readers, however, the split persists, with the result that the book invites separate readings: the economist might choose to skim past the metaphors, the student of literature to skim past the logical arguments and practical proposals.
Ruskin would insist, of course, that the two must not be separated and that the attempt to separate them merely repeats the dissociation of sensibility — the professed incompatibility of the rational and poetic modes of thought — that lies behind the Devil's triumph over modern economic life. Ruskin's project is precisely to heal that breach by proposing (as he does from the beginning of his career to the end) a moral science, a partnership between passionate apprehension and analytical comprehension — and that science must speak the language of affections, the language, that is to say, of symbols. Here lies the odd triumph of the book. In many ways Ruskin's vision of abundance for all had already become familiar in advanced Liberal thought. (We have only to consider the ideology of the Free Traders, or the conclusion of Mill's Principles or Political Economy, which envisions a freely expanding economy released of the hierarchical restraints so important to Ruskin.) Ruskin's contributions as an economist have been ably evaluated by others.3 I will look instead at his construction, in word and symbol, of a moral science. Here, as in so many other areas, his predecessor is Carlyle.
nderlying the traditional satire against avarice — particularly the satire against the swindler, with his tricks and sophisms and disguises — [196/197] lies the perception that money is a mode of signifying opposed to a prior, "natural" mode. This, of course, is the point of the opening scene of Volpone, where the miser worships his money as if it were a saint or god and Mosca opposes riches and fortune to wisdom and nature ("Riches are in fortune/A greater good than wisdom is in nature"). Jonson's complaint against money is substantially the same as Marx's well-known remarks, more than two centuries later, in his meditation on Timon of Athens: money "changes fidelity to infidelity, love into hate, hate into love, virtue into vice, vice into virtue, servant into master, stupidity into intelligence and intelligence into stupidity.... it is the universal confusion and transposition of all things, the inverted world." Money can transpose values because its relationship to things is arbitrary, or as Marx puts it, "abstract," and from this idea it is a small step to the attack, in another fragment of 1844, to abstract thinking itself: "The philosophical mind is nothing but the alienated world-mind thinking within the bounds of its self-alienation, i.e., conceiving itself in an abstract manner. Logic is the money of the mind, the speculative thought-value of man and of nature . . ., thought which is alienated and abstract and ignores real nature and man." Just as the mental counterpart of the commercial economy of Jonson's time is a form of tricksterlike transposition, the mental counterpart of the industrial economy of Marx's time is an abstract and systematized logic set over against concrete experience in the same way that the system of capitalist production is set over against the concrete needs of the laborers and the works of their hands. To put it in a different way, human beings become units in a system, means toward a perpetually deferred end so divorced from concrete experience that the system seems but a monstrous and aimless functioning. "Machinery," Carlyle's term for systematized alienation, derives from the Greek for "means" or "contrivance." Although Carlyle tends to base his critique of machinery on scientific rather than economic thought, the two primary associations of his key word — the machine as a synecdoche of industrial civilization [197/198] (Dickens's Moloch-like Idol) and Newtonian mechanics — suggest the conformity between social and mental structures implied in Marx's sentences about alienated thought.
In its broadest range, Carlyle's critique of nineteenth-century civilization treats mechanical thinking as one symptom of a pervasive system of false significances, which (in Sartor Resartus) he calls "old clothes" or "dead metaphors." Appropriately, the biographical section of the book, which is a cultural myth as well, contains an account of the fall into alienated language that Teufelsdröckh must redeem through the clothing philosophy — and which Ruskin must also redeem in the language of a moral science. According to Carlyle, the infant Teufelsdröckh lived in unity with nature and experienced natural objects directly as incarnate Words. But when the child went off to Hinterschlag Academy, he entered the main street of his new home and
saw its steeple-clock (then striking Eight) and Schuldthurm (Tail), and the aproned or disaproned Burghers moving-in to breakfast: a little dog, in mad terror, was rushing past; for some human imps had tied a tin-kettle to its tail; thus did the agonised creature, louddingling, career through the whole length of the borough, and become notable enough. Fit emblem of many a Conquering Hero, to whom Fate . . . has malignantly appended a tin-kettle of Ambition, to chase him on; which the faster he runs, urges him the faster, the more loudly and more foolishly! (29)
Each image — clock, jail, labor, and spanked dog — refers metaphorically to school and to the larger condition of which school is in turn a metaphor. "Steeple-clock" and Schuldthurm (the German word combines "guilt" with "steeple," or "tower") repeat the connections implied in the image of the dog, which as a figure for ambition combines spanking and time to suggest that the lessons of Hinterschlag ("back-slap") begin in guilt, as human life begins in Original Sin. This passage comes from the bag of fragments Teufelsdröckh has labeled "Scorpio," the eighth sign of the zodiac, represented by the animal that stings itself. To exist in time, then, is to be driven through life by the Devil, who is the Time Spirit of this World. Later suggestions in the book reverse this image to make man himself the tail or detachable appendage dropped by the Devil. (Teufelsdröckh's manner of appearing to his adopted parents and, of course, his name reinforce this idea.) Carlyle here draws close to Freud's vision of human society in Civilization and Its Discontents, according to which the instinctual renunciation necessary to economic life, experienced as guilt or unconscious aggression against the self, becomes one of the driving forces of social energy and the principal cause of organized aggression. But Carlyle also shows how the personal experience of guilt and helplessness is projected onto [198/199] the cosmos as well. The youth's betrayal by Blumine and Towgood (or Toughgut) repeats the idea of expulsion and leads to his nightmare of a mechanical universe, in the face of which life itself is but an excrescence. The "spanking" of guilt is apotheosized into the machine-as-history, a chain of ineluctable necessity. This breaking of the human relations with nature and other humans has its counterpart in the subject matter of Hinterschlag — the dead languages with which the logicians stuff their students. Severed from their referents, words also become a mere lifeless structure.
But Teufelsdröckh's reconstituted faith provides a circular return to childhood by reasserting in different form the union of the human and the natural and of words and their referents. When in "The Everlasting Yea" the leaden bonds of necessity are recognized as the golden bonds of duty, Teufelsdröckh undoes his expulsion by becoming part of the whole, now experienced as an organism taking a human image. Man becomes the symbol of the All, and the aim of human effort is to manifest divine laws as the set of living metaphors that are human culture. Human speech, rightly used and understood, is also an organic system of metaphor evolving through time, for in Carlylean idealism, words are deeds, and deeds words, generating in turn the structures of social and economic life. For example, all Rothschilds and English national debts and the entire money economy spring from the moment an "old-world Grazier," sick of lugging his ox around, decided to stamp the figure of an ox (pecus) on a piece of leather to call it pecunia. (Tennyson, 266)
In his fine analysis of this passage, G. B. Tennyson compares Carlyle's argument in Wotton Reinfred that the metaphorical origin of words strengthens rather than weakens their power to shadow forth truth, since all thought is metaphorical and abstractions are but faded metaphors. "What metaphor does for Carlyle is to illuminate relationships, to reveal connections between things not at first evident, and thus to suggest some vast and meaningful scheme in the universe." It follows that in a society based on false verbal relationships, human connections will be lost. The isolation that for Carlyle is the most poignant symptom of the nineteenth-century malaise figures itself in a world of blank messages manipulated by "rulers" who are in actuality impotent paper pushers and jabberers — a world of paper money, paper parliaments, seas of ink, handbills, un-laws, doctrines, and a generalized "vague janglement," as he calls it in Past and Present. In this sense Sartor Resartus is a satire against pedantry and its eiron is Teufelsdröckh, a hermetic pedant who is in truth the one person in the book not a pedant because he is able to interpret things in their profound symbolic interrelationship. [199/200]
Unto This Last adopts these and other features of Carlylean satire: it opposes the mechanical conception of society to the organic, adopts a stance at once prophetic and ironic, and converts the objects of its attack into the stock figures of the malignant pedant and the false preacher. And it begins with a position already defined by Carlyle, proving first of all that the dismal science is in fact a disguised value system in competition with other "gospels," particularly that professed by his audience. Political economy, Ruskin writes, is a
systematic disobedience to the first principles of its professed religion. The writings which we (verbally) esteem as divine, not only denounce the love of money as the source of all evil, and as an idolatry abhorred of the Deity, but declare Mammon service to be the accurate and irreconcilable opposite of God's service; and, whenever they speak of riches absolute, and poverty absolute, declare woe to the rich, and blessing to the poor. Whereupon we forthwith investigate a science of becoming rich, as the shortest road to national prosperity. [XVII, 75-76]
The contradiction between profession and practice Ruskin takes to be definitive of his public (and indeed, the audience that could respond to such a statement — an audience largely middle class and fervently Christian — is more or less the Victorian audience). Ruskin seized his occasion with exquisite instinct (the rage of his opposition shows that he hit home), but in his larger task of fashioning a language common to Christian ethics and social analysis, the moment of his opportunity is also a moment of great difficulty. Carlyle sought to teach his audience how to read phenomena as moral metaphors, but Ruskin had also to construct a moral science that could prove the political economists to be false on their own terms as well. His audience owed a double allegiance to the true gospels, but one was becoming increasingly persuasive, while the other had been neutralized into platitudinous familiarity. How could he rescue religious language from the context of hypocritical evasiveness? This task is precisely that of Coleridge in The Statesman's Manual, and Ruskin's argument is similar. He must show that the Bible, accurately read and imaginatively experienced, is the truest guide to modern economics. He does so by overthrowing abstractions and constructing a mode of thought that is at once concrete, metaphorical, and scientifically valid — a new language that turns out to be the old language of religious myth.
uskin began publishing Unto This Last in monthly numbers of Cornhill until public protest called a halt to the series, forcing him to conclude [200/201] his argument in a final, compressed installment. The book should therefore seem awkward in structure, yet the result is the most unified essay he ever wrote and perhaps his most ingeniously constructed. The four chapter titles signal a series of discrete topics: "The Roots of Honour" (on the social affections), "The Veins of Wealth" (on wealth), "Qui Judicatis Terram" (on economic justice), and "Ad Valorem" (on value and then, more briefly, on price, production, and consumption), but at the same time, each topic with its characteristic image pattern flows into the next, with the general effect of an argument that deepens and broadens, culminating in the concentrated grandeur of the final pages. Far from representing a change of course in his career, Ruskinian economics reaches its climax in a vision that is precisely the burden of all great art, the type of noble and perfected human life.
The first sentence of "The Roots of Honour" strikes the keynote of the book by attacking the assumption that "an advantageous code of social action may be determined irrespective of the influence of social affection" (XVII, 25). On the contrary, human beings are the proper subject of economics, and the motive force of humans is the soul, "the will and spirit of the creature." Economics, in other words, is properly a dynamic, not a mechanical, science. Mechanical science is the study of means and so views humans as means to an end, that is, as tools or machine parts to be "utilized"; dynamic science, on the other hand, studies the inward principle or power of its subject considered as an end in itself. Surely no economics can be scientific that founds itself only on moral injunctions, yet Ruskin's point is that no economics can be scientific that ignores them: "Treat [the worker] kindly without any economical purpose, and all economical purposes will be answered; in this, as in all other matters, whosoever will save his life shall lose it, whoso loses it shall find it" (XVII, 31). "Observe," he writes a moment later, "I am here considering the affections wholly as a motive power; not at all as things in themselves desirable or noble, or in any other way abstractedly good. I look at them simply as an anomalous force, rendering every one of the ordinary political economist's calculations nugatory" (XVII, 30-31). Ruskin here deliberately fuses the language of facts and the language of values by serious punning, using terms that may or may not be value neutral: "law," for example, may be a prescriptive or a descriptive term; "affections" may mean "passions" or "shows of love"; "moral" may mean "psychological" or "ethical." This deliberate confusion takes advantage of ambiguities in the language of nineteenth-century empiricism but also helps drive home the serious point that no social science can be a value-neutral enterprise. (In our own time, of course, we have learned again and again how class ideology presents itself as an objective science and in particular how impulses[201/202] to organized destruction parade themselves in terms such as "realism," "options," and "problem-solving.")
Ruskin then begins to show what a human-centered economics would look like by advancing his first practical proposal. Wages and length of employment, he says, should be determined independently of the demand for labor and should be fixed. This principle (as we have already seen in The Political Economy of Art) implies that the worker and his work are valued for themselves and, conversely, that money would have meaning as a standard of value, not as a mere register of market forces. Money would no longer be a confuser of values but an affirmation of value; moreover, it would cease to drive men into competition and so become the measure of their poverty but would act rather as a token of social bonding. From this proposal follows the most notoriously "impractical" of all the ideas in Unto This Last. The modern industrial enterprise, Ruskin says, should be founded on honor and fidelity such as prevail among "domestic servants in an old family, or an esprit de corps, like that of the soldiers in a crack regiment" (XVII, 33). The merchant would deserve this loyalty because the honor attaching to the professions-those of the soldier, the physician, the pastor, the lawyer, and the merchant — depends on an absolute duty opposed to the wish for gain, a duty that extends in extreme cases (as for the soldier) to dying for others. It follows that, since the merchant's relations to his employees should be as a father's to his sons, the merchant would in the case of a commercial crisis take as much or more of the suffering on himself than his men feel — "as a father would in a famine, shipwreck, or battle, sacrifice himself for his son" (XVII, 42). By thinking of merchants, soldiers, and pastors as governors of men, Ruskin answers the complaints he launched against these men as types at the close of Modern Painters V, written a few months earlier. The difference, of course, is that the three forms of asceticism (military, commercial, monastic) are replaced by a form of wealth — the wealth of having many sons — and the repressed energies are channeled into social bonds, "such affection as one man owes another" (XVII, 28). Ruskin called this bonding the Law of Help in Modern Painters V. In the last two pages of the essay before us, "is bound" appears eight times. True commerce is, in fact, "the most important of all fields," since the merchant "provides." The money-hungry ascetic becomes the man who feeds others. This final image represents a dramatic reversal of the first extended simile in the essay. Ruskin's caricature of a science based on greed is a science that reduces the body to soulless bones and plays games with death's heads and humeri (that is, with machine parts), but the new science is based on affection of an extreme and even a paradigmatic kind: "as a father would . . . sacrifice himself for his son." Self-sacrifice is the absolute antithesis of self-interest conventionally so [202/203] called, yet it is really the highest form of self-interest, since whoso loses his life shall find it — we might add, whoso would be filled shall first feed others — and this is simply the doctrine of the faith that all the English openly profess.
Ruskin's argument baffles readers to this day. Can Ruskin believe human beings to be so benevolent by nature? Can he be as naive as he seems? The response to such questions is the conclusion of the essay, a redoubled assertion of his own practicality: "All of which sounds very strange: the only real strangeness in the matter being, nevertheless, that it should so sound. For all this is true, and that not partially nor theoretically, but everlastingly and practically: all other doctrine than this respecting matters political being false in premises, absurd in deduction, and impossible in practice, consistently with any progressive state of national life" (XVII, 42). Here is the Carlylean stance, by which the speaker dismisses his opponent's views as outlandish and unheardof while he himself simply repeats anciently accepted wisdom. And of course laissez-faire economics is new-fangled insofar as it claims to separate social philosophy from a purely empirical inquiry and then claims that a particular mode of social behavior is universal and "natural." Human beings are often selfish and base, but Ruskin's argument is not empirical; he is considering human beings from the viewpoint of their telos, or of what Marx would call the "fully human." Ruskin subtly signals this viewpoint by ingenious puns on the words "true" and "false." In phrases such as "true merchant," "true commerce," and "true science," "true" means "approximation to an ideal" but also combines the senses of "properly so called," "accurate," and "actually existing." Similarly, he says of any exclusively selfish commerce that "this which they have called commerce was not commerce at all, but cozening" (XVII, 39). Laissez-faire commerce therefore is untrue and so in a sense does not really exist. Ruskin's strategy here is of the first philosophical interest, since he is replacing an empiricist theory of meaning with an idealist theory — or more generally, is relinquishing descriptive language, in which words denote observed entities, for what Northrop Frye has called metonymic language, in which words are "put for" intangible realities (chap. 1). Carlyle of course does the same thing in his historical philosophy when he calls present conditions "false" manifestations of eternal conditions that are "true," but more clearly than Carlyle, Ruskin challenges his opponents by implying that, for them, all metonymic language, including the language of the Christian religion, is "impractical." Like Plato in The Republic, Ruskin's aim is to show that entities such as justice are not only eternally "true" but also the only possible bases for a practical social policy.
[203/204]The central opposition of the second essay is true wealth versus false wealth, and its revelatory climax is the statement that humans are the true wealth of a nation. To prove this point he distinguishes between political economy ("the economy of a State, or of citizens") and the false, or "mercantile," economy of individual acquisitiveness. The distinction attacks a second central tenet of the Manchester school (the first being that economics can exist as a value-free science) by denying that the selfish pursuit of wealth amounts to the greatest good for the greatest number. Ruskin assumes that any system of individual exchanges is a closed system resting on scarcity (we will see later what an open system looks like), so that every penny in one person's pocket means a loss for someone else; "mercantile" economy is therefore the science of defrauding or taking from others. He then defines money as debt ("a legal or moral claim," or in other words "an acknowledgement of debt . . . represent[ing] the labour and property of the creditor, or the idleness and penury of the debtor" [XVII, 50]). The poor are by implication the class of people owing debt to the rich, while the rich are the class of people who bear the guilt of gaining at the expense of others. To support this claim, Ruskin offers a fable illustrating the beginnings of an economic system. Two shipwrecked sailors find themselves in an uninhabited region and are forced to labor by themselves. One falls ill, so that the other must labor for them both. In exchange, the sick sailor pledges his future labor in the form of written promises — money. This fable no doubt confuses more than it clarifies, but it seems to serve Ruskin's purposes best by allegorizing the psychological reality of the money system. Somehow or other, one class of people has "legal or moral claim upon, or power over, the labour of others," so that debt and want are the fuel of the system ("The force of the guinea you have in your pocket depends wholly on the default of a guinea in your neighbour's pocket" [XVII, 44]). By exposing the ethical meanings implied in such standard economic terms as "debt," "owe," "earn," and "obligation," Ruskin once again implies that economics is a moral science. A just system, however, would not destroy the inequalities implied in the debtor relationship but transform them: the choice, he says, is between "melodious inequalities of concurrent power" and "the iniquitous dominances and depressions of guilt and misfortune" (XVII, 48). If Ruskin implies a link here between "dominances" and "guilt" and between "depressions" and "misfortune," then the business cycle appears to work like a cruel and capricious father, first compelling his sons and then arbitrarily punishing them without ever allowing them to work off their debt. But by offering the alternative of "concurrent powers," Ruskin suggests that there can be a good and mutually affirming system of indebtedness by which the owing of guilt can be transformed into the owing of love. [204/205]
The transformation can occur, as we have seen, only if wages are fixed (further proposals will follow in the next essays) and only if private wealth can be made to further the public wealth. But these conditions imply a wholly new conception of wealth-a conception of wealth not as the quantity of an individual's possessions but as a symbol of the exchanges of goods and labor. And so there is true and false wealth: the "real value [of a "given mass of acquired wealth"] depends on the moral sign attached to it.... Some treasures are heavy with human tears, as an ill-stored harvest with untimely rain; and some gold is brighter in sunshine than it is in substance" (XVII, 52). Ruskin proceeds to a symbolic reading of wealth, of which two brief images are charged with particular passion. The phrase "lying image of prosperity set up, on Dura plains dug into seven-times-heated furnaces" puts Nebuchadnezzar's golden idol on top, so to speak, of the factorylike furnace where the young men were to be sacrificed, reversing the proper positions of men and gold (one standing above the earth, the other buried in the earth), while "the purchase-pieces of potter's fields, wherein shall be buried together the citizen and the stranger" (XVII, 53), repeats the reversal but extends the betrayal to include the Lord of life, that is, Life itself. In the anagnorisis of the final paragraphs, however, the ironic vision (in which gold commands the servitude and deaths of men) is reversed again, and man once more becomes the measure. It may be, Ruskin says,
that the persons themselves are the wealth — that these pieces of gold with which we are in the habit of guiding them, are, in fact, nothing more than a kind of Byzantine harness or trappings, very glittering and beautiful in barbaric sight, wherewith we bridle the creatures; but that if these same living creatures could be guided without the fretting and jingling of the Byzants in their mouths and ears, they might themselves be more valuable than their bridles. In fact, it may be discovered that the true veins of wealth are purple. [XVII, 55]
Here "Byzantine," the conventional equivalent of "splendid," is analyzed into a pun, "Byzantine harness" and "Byzants," which together carry the concept of fetishism classically expounded by Marx. Value is centered on the inanimate objects by which men are devalued into beasts of burden, while the splendor or produce of the nation becomes the symbol of oppression ("bridle"): the beautiful is antithetical to the good. The emotional realities of money in a degraded system are also clarified: the jingling in the ears is a Siren's jingle, the fretting at the mouth a parody of eating, the jingling and fretting together a form of the carrot and stick, the tyranny of need and indebtedness. But in the reversal, humans become the ends instead of the means: "The final outcome and consummation of all wealth is in the producing as many [205/206] as possible full-breathed, bright-eyed, and happy hearted human creatures." Ruskin illustrates his proposal for a manufacture of "Souls of a good quality" by comparing the nation with Cordelia, whose "jewels" were in fact her sons.
The reversal transforms the problem of guilt. The act of subordinating ends to means, by which humans are perpetually a means to a fictitious end beyond themselves, parallels the experience of guilt or indebtedness, by which a person labors indefinitely in expiation of an ancient condition, and also the activity of "economizing," by which a person renounces present pleasure in favor of an indefinite future condition. The economic gospel, for both capitalist and worker, is a permanent and life-denying asceticism. Money is the emblem of all these things, the materialization of that denial and the token of the debt forever to be worked off. The Byzantine harness is the analogue, then, of TeufelsdrÖckh's iron bands of necessity, whereas the image of sons as jewels is the analogue of the golden bands of duty: the second is the emblem of freedom, since the debt has been erased in favor of the affection men "owe" each other, and the humanity of the worker is now affirmed, not perpetually to be earned.
Ruskin's utopian economics is of course paternalistic, exactly as Dickens's and Carlyle's were, but in no simple sense. In part it preserves what is best in classical economics (without Ruskin's ever saying so). In the third volume of The Stones of Venice, for example, he defines the "principle of brotherhood" in a "Gothic" rather than a republican sense: "the souls that are unlike, and the nations that are unlike, and the natures that are unlike, being bound into one noble whole by each receiving something from and of the others' gifts and the others' glory" (XI, 24). This statement is a moral version of division of labor as Adam Smith conceived it — a guarantee of economic autonomy and efficiency by the exchange of specialized skills. In "The Nature of Gothic" Ruskin presented a good version of this system (in which the workman expresses himself and so finds freedom by participating in an organic whole) and a bad version (in which the workman is unskilled and uncreative, and so is enslaved by a mechanical system). But the word "inequality," performing the function that "imperfection" did in "The Nature of Gothic," deliberately confounds economics with politics, serving to rationalize a system of bourgeois control — and so, of course, does the fable about the origin of money, which assumes as immutable the present relationships of power in order to reform the present uses of power. The theory of money and the dominant image of wealth as a stream (which like water only moves by flowing downward from a high source) suggest that Ruskin was unable even to conceive of a society that was not hierarchical or of social cohesion not based on some form of obligation of inequality. This failure of imagination derives, of [206/207] course, from Ruskin's class ideology — the good fathers would be people from his own class-and also, to a limited but definite extent, from his own experience of affection. In countless published passages and private remarks and deeds, Ruskin suggests that for him friendship is inconceivable without a recognition of difference, a recognition deriving no doubt from his internalized paradigm of love, which is filial. The letter to Rossetti shows with particular clarity how the mechanism of exchange — the exchange of money and labor and advice and praise — simplifies some of the risks of a truly mutual intimacy, permitting the affirmation of "concurrent powers" as long as Ruskin himself could define the terms of power. Unto This Last sets up a similar conception of ideal paternity that permits the workman or son the full expression of his powers, giving to the benevolent ruling class quite remarkable power to shape the souls of those in their employ. By wishing away the very possibility of class conflict, Ruskinian paternalism denies the principle that has underlain liberal political thought since Macchiavelli — that each class is the proper guardian of its own interests — and this is a serious limitation indeed. Yet Ruskin's comment that the brotherhood of man is inconceivable without the sonhood of man, by suggesting that the family metaphor in libertarian thought can crucially avoid the hard questions of political power, reminds us that the difficulty is not Ruskin's alone. Even for Marx, the relationships of power in a classless society remain undefined.
Ruskin's method of thinking about economics in terms of individual affectionate relationships thus runs the danger of imposing a new form of tyranny. Yet Unto This Last shows even more powerfully the dangers of thinking about economics in any other way. It shows the same about the use of metaphor in economic thinking. Economic abstractions enact the fallacy of misplaced concreteness by taking a part of the whole — economic "forces" — and reifying it as a self-enclosed system (a rise in demand means a rise in "value," overproduction means a fall in wages, and so forth) governed by a law of profit and loss presumed to be ironclad. The reification is possible because economists view money and wealth only as quantities, not as signs, which in fact they are. By starting out with the crucial perception that wealth is power over labor and therefore the materialization of human relationships, Ruskin is able to draw aside the "veil" of the abstraction to show the human beneath and then to read the "moral signs" of wealth as we might read the stones of a fallen city or the emblems in a painting by Veronese. The relationship of material goods to the people who use and produce them, in other words, is like the relationship of vehicle to tenor except that in false wealth the literal meaning may be absolutely opposed to the metaphorical or human meaning: some treasures are heavy with human tears. Ruskin strengthens this point by an image structure of his [207/208] own in which people and their products are visually all but indistinguishable. In each essay the common image is a circulating system in which the elements (money, products), the forms of energy (greed or affection, need and indebtedness) and the laws of motion (justice or injustice) can be provisionally separated. Such a separation, however, is ultimately like separating the dancer from the dance (wealth flows, men are wealth, justice flows like money). As in the language of religious myth, the "true" language of economics is concrete, combining subject and object. But I am anticipating Ruskin's conception of justice, to which he devotes another essay.
he close of "The Veins of Wealth" suggests that if children are wealth, the aim of a true economy is not only to share but also to produce and that a system of monetary exchange is wholly distinguishable from a system of production (even though Ruskin is unclear about the relationship between production and "mere" exchange). The first principle, based on scarcity, permits one person's gain only at another person's expense, but if wealth is a growing thing, the rules change — the economy becomes dynamic rather than static, and its components (money, wealth, affection, justice) circulate through four dimensions, nourishing and generating the ultimate product, which is life. Ruskin's conception of justice is similarly nourishing and generative.
"Qui Judicatis Terram" varies the structure of the previous essays by opening not with an attack on the false economy but with maxims of the true. The break in rhythm suggests that Ruskin has built enough of his argument to let the biblical message be heard in its proper context. But he surrounds his scriptural text with heavy irony: Solomon he describes anonymously as "a Jew merchant" reputed for "practical sagacity" whose writings "have fallen into disrepute, being opposed in every particular to the spirit of modern commerce," yet which may "interest the reader by their novelty" (XVII, 57). By converting Proverbs into an economic treatise and Solomon into a successful capitalist, Ruskin reveals the Scriptures as the paradigm of his own moral science while sharpening the opposition between religious precept and economic practice into a kind of battle of books. For most readers this battle is the least successful section of Unto This Last, since Ruskin is unable to avoid after all the appearance of turning from hard logic to self-righteous prescription. Ruskin's aim and design are nevertheless precise and deliberate: by integrating biblical imagery with his own metaphorical economics, he moves beyond metaphor to myth.
Justice is first of all moral law ("A fair day's work for a fair day's pay" [208/209] is a central example); second, it is a power of generating and increasing wealth. Ruskin's practical point is that if a workman is paid more than the minimum the market can bear, the workman can hire someone else to work for him with the surplus he has earned; the person hired can hire someone else, and so forth. The example is not convincing, yet the conception behind it — that the money supply is not a fixed quantity but a volume that fluctuates according to its use-is important and further permits Ruskin to view the employer as a kind of governor who "legislates" through his bestowals, not as a capitalist who simply hoards. This legislation, the principle of which we have already seen in Ruskin's art economy, stands against the laissez-faire belief that market forces are uncontrollable and subject to their own laws only:
The waters of the world go where they are required.... No human laws can withstand its flow. They can only guide it: but this, the leading trench and limiting mound can do so thoroughly, that it shall become water of life — the riches of the hand of wisdom; or, on the contrary, by leaving it to its own lawless flow, they may make it, what it has been too often, the last and deadliest of national plagues: water of Marah — the water which feeds the roots of all evil. [XVI, 60-61]
The biblical allusions of this passage form a meditation on Exodus — appropriately, because the structure of that book resembles the typological structure of Unto This Last, and also because Moses as lawgiver is also, by divine favor, the nourisher of his people. (By his various miraculous conversions — the rock that yields water, the almond rod that flowers, the dead land that provides manna, the bitter waters of Marah that turn sweet — Moses shows what any employer can do by the uses of wealth.) Wisdom, which we have encountered before in Ruskin, also becomes a form of nourishment ("the water of life," "the riches of the hand of wisdom"). (The imagery and meaning of Unto This Last comes closest here to The King of the Golden River, particularly in the sudden appearance halfway through each book of the wise figure capable of turning the dry land into abundance and revealing the true relationships between gold and life.)
In fact Ruskin apotheosizes Solomon by elevating him, so to speak, from an obscure "Jew merchant" to the type of wisdom by calling up certain verses from the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon and associating them with a passage in Dante. The light, Solomon wrote, is the "sun of justice," which shall rise with healing in its wings and must be accompanied by holiness, that is, "helpfulness" (XVII, 59-60). In the wake of this quotation Ruskin opposes the ignoble modern science to the divine law of prudence, which is also "jurisprudence":
Which prudence is indeed of no mean order, holding itself, as it were, high in the air of heaven, and gazing for ever on the light of the sun of [209/210] justice; hence the souls which have excelled in it are represented by Dante as stars forming in heaven for ever the figure of the eye of an eagle; they having been in life the discerners of light from darkness; or to the whole human race, as the light of the body, which is the eye; while those souls which form the wings of the bird (giving power and dominion to justice, "healing in its wings") trace also in light the inscription in heaven: "DILIGITEJUSTITIAM QUI JUDICATIS TERRAM."XVII, 62]
Justice and holiness, traditionally conceived, rationalize the Blakean tyranny of king and priest, but Ruskin transvalues these values, so to speak, by redefinition, combining "holiness" with "helpfulness" and rex (ruling power) with lex (judging or measuring power) (XVII, 59n), so that government becomes a matter of helping and distributing. The Holy (Helpful) Ghost would be the type of both these virtues, and indeed, by linking the sun of justice, rising with healing in its wings, with Dante's eagle, Ruskin in effect converts the eagle of empire into a dove — a symbol, like Dante's, of the temporal and spiritual power, although since economics is at once a moral science and the provision of material benefits, Ruskin's image of the social body is really a joining of the nobly animal with the nobly spiritual. All the virtues, we might say, are materialized and all physical satisfactions spiritualized. The rulers are to the nation as the eye of reason is to the body, but Ruskin's republic is once again a physical entity as well- — Solomon as preacher and provider merges with the Platonic philosopher-king — and in a certain sense also a democratic entity. For justice is embodied not in one man only but in all men of goodwill: "Which judging or doing Judgment in the earth is, according to their capacity and position, required not of judges only, nor of rulers only, but of all men" (XVII, 63). Both these mergings-the body of society with the spirit and the ruler of society with the citizen — are captured by Ruskin's image of the sun of heaven incorporated into the body as the light of the eye, so that this symbol, like the darkening glass in Modern Painters V, becomes the emblem of a secular faith. In these pages, then, Ruskin comes as close as any writer is likely to come to a poetry of economics — not at this point a doctrine but a reordering of thought and feeling bearing roughly the same relationship to the welfare state that Prometheus Unbound bears to radical republicanism. Only through myth can a new heroic virtue be invented, in this case a secular version of the love that for Dante moves the sun and other stars. Ruskin's ideal ruler incidentally represents a fusion of his own identity with his father's, since the ideal merchant merges into the ideal preacher, a dispenser of wisdom and wealth. As Ruskin attacks the false economists in order to become a true one himself, he also absorbs the role of merchant into the role of writer. But what kind of writer Ruskin has become depends on the [210/211] fashioning of a metaphorical language that is both legislative and prophetic, since it is capable of forming "before unapprehended relations of thought." In his final essay he brings to a climax this prophetic use of language by first of all attacking the language of the false science.
n the preface to The Political Economy of Art, Ruskin boasted that the only economist he read was Smith many years ago. Hostile reviewers of Unto This Last leaped on the admission in order to discredit Ruskin as an ignorant amateur, with the result that, while preparing his fourth essay, he apparently read the classical economists with the purpose of refuting them. "Ad Valorem" opens with a cross-examination of these texts, particularly Mill's, in which Ruskin demonstrates once and for all that, if his own mind was analytical, he had little better than a schoolboy debater's notion of logic. As John Fain and others have shown, the procedure is to quote haphazardly and out of context, to leap on isolated words and phrases, and incidentally to plagiarize the language and ideas of his sources, including Ricardo and Smith — another example, presumably, of Apollo absorbing the Python. (Fain has demonstrated this point convincingly by comparing passages (pp. 144-145).) But in one feature of this repellent section, the quarrel with Mill's definitions, Ruskin exposes a real issue.
His essential complaint is vagueness. Thus Mill defines utility as "capacity to satisfy a desire, or serve a purpose"; but what kind of desire and what kind of purpose? Wealth includes "all useful and agreeable objects," but is a horse useful when no one can ride? Mill never defines "possession," but for Ruskin there are degrees of possession, including, at one extreme point, the corpse of St. Carlo Borromeo, with its gold crosier and cross of emeralds. The word "value," "when used without adjunct, always means, in political economy, value in exchange." Does this mean, Ruskin asks, that the rudders of two ships are valueless because they cannot be exchanged? His quibbles are easily refutable if we accept Mill's own explicit justification for abstract language in the moral sciences. His procedure, he says in The Principles of Political Economy, is to use words that often have normative meanings descriptively, not prescriptively ("useful" and "agreeable" apply simply to whatever people consider useful and agreeable, not necessarily to what is useful or agreeable in itself), and then to restrict their usual meanings to specialized senses useful for a specialized study ("value" therefore means only value in exchange). These abstractions, Mill then notes, must be qualified by "disturbing factors" when applied practically.[211/212] Homo economicus is one of these abstractions: when the economist speaks of people as desiring wealth, he is not necessarily claiming that people invariably and in all circumstances act according to their selfinterest. (For criticism of the idea of "disturbing factors" in applied economics, see Sherburne, 120. Mill's theory of meanings and definitions appears in the System of Logic, book 1.) (These of course are the "disturbing factors" that Ruskin calls "affections.") Mill's procedure conforms to the modified empiricism of his System of Logic. There he claims that definitions are not of things in themselves but statements about meanings people normally attribute to words, and that general concepts are summations of particular instances, referring only to the sums of those instances that, in fact, may cohere by virtue of resemblance into what we call "classes." It follows that generalizations are valuable for their usefulness in a particular context, not for their power to describe things in themselves. This inductive theory of truth of course has obvious difficulties. When asked to define the essence of something, am empiricist might list the attributes found most often in a given class, but what if the object to be defined were human? One possible definition is "any featherless biped," to which we could add any number of other attributes, but how could we decide which quality, rationality or bipedality, was more important to humanness? How, in other words, should Bitzer condense his definition of the horse?
From the economist's point of view, the question is how far the inductive method, useful for natural science, can be adapted to the study of human beings. It has often been observed that Mill uses analogies from physics in the Principles ("disturbing forces" is borrowed from the concept of friction in the physical sciences), but the analogy runs deeper. Any attempt to create generalizations on the basis of recurrence, which may then be used instrumentally — to predict or produce desired results — implies, first of all, the conception of a self-sufficient and interdependent system and, second, the possibility of abstracting things so as to quantify them. Number tends to be the common denominator of all phenomena, which then have to be somewhat artificially viewed as units — objects or motions. This idea suggests a second analogy. Marx, thinking of Hegel, called abstract logic the money of the mind. We might add that the inductive theory of meaning corresponds to the use of paper money in an economy. Like inductive generalizations, money translates objects into an abstract system of signification based on quantity; like inductive definitions, the relationship of money to things is arbitrary (definitions are what people take words to mean) and alters according to purposes outside the inherent value of things. For the capitalist and the scientist, things mean only what they need to mean for a specific purpose: as conceived by its [212/213] romantic critics, utilitarianism permits people to change meanings for selfish ends.
Ruskin's reformation of language attempts to overthrow arbitrary meaning by forging a necessary connection between words and the concrete reality, which — since economics is a human science — is the subjective human experience of things. However obscurely expressed, the attack on Mill is a denial that humans can be the object of a study without being subjects as well. Ruskin begins his reformation with what John Rosenberg calls his "humanization of the concept of value."
In classical economics the word "value" has relative meaning only. Like the word "is" in English grammar, it acts as the copula, putting things into relationship to each other. But in an actual economy the relationships shift like the croquet game in Alice: wages rise and fall according to "demand"; what fetched a pretty price yesterday is worthless today. Ruskin gives referential meaning to the term by means of etymology and word-association: "Valor, from valere, to be well or strong (ugianw); — — strong, in life (if a man), or valiant; strong, for life (if a thing), or valuable. To be 'valuable,' therefore, is to 'avail towards life.' A truly valuable or availing thing is that which leads to life with its whole strength" (XVII, 84). From this definition flow several oppositions — vanity to substance, "death, the Lord of Waste, and of eternal emptiness" to "Wisdom, the Lady of Saving, and of eternal fullness" (in turn associated with — of all things — the Madonna della Salute, also the name of a Venetian church), and wealth to illth. The effect of these [213/214] associations is to center a cluster of meanings on a conception of wellbeing that is both physiological and spiritual. In the theory of language Ruskin assumes (to which I will return later), definition rests not in accepted uses of a word but in the various meanings that descend from a root, which are related to each other and to similar words in a cluster that is the verbal equivalent of a grotesque. These relations correspond to relations in the real world, a world which — exactly as in landscape — is a world of essences, that is, of spiritual and physical energies.
In an almost literal sense, then, Ruskin's language stands to Mill's as dynamics to mechanics. Mechanics studies the interaction of matter and motion; the new science of dynamics studies the modifications of energy. Each of Ruskin's terms is active — even "having," which is the "vital power to use" — and the discussion of possession modulates into a discussion of use and ab-use of wine, of the body, of material value in general. By contrast, the strongest "force" in classical economics — demand — seems not even a force at all: the economists, Ruskin says, mean by "demand" "the quantity of a thing sold" whereas he means by it "the force of the buyer's capable intention to buy" (XVII, 84n). Later, in discussing price, he says that "the regulation of the purse is, in its essence, regulation of the imagination and the heart," a regulation to be determined by "quantity of wish" and "quantity of labour" (XVII, 94-95). And since the buyer's labor is his money, every element in economic life — money, wealth, possession, labor, price, demand-becomes a manifestation of physical or moral energy capable of modification by other energies. All these energies are of course manifestations of human affections: Ruskin pictures the pattern of economic exchange as a materialization of character much as Pope does in the "Moral Epistles." The general term for these spiritual energies is Life, which takes the characteristic form of a struggle: "Labour is the contest of the life of man with an opposite; — the term 'life' including his intellect, soul, and physical power, contending with question, difficulty, trial, or material force" (XVII, 95). Again, "THERE IS NO WEALTH BUT LIFE. Life, including all its powers of love, of joy, and of admiration" (XVII, 105). But the activity of life is not only a struggle but a drive toward the creation of more life, since life is its own end. The motions of Ruskin's moral thermodynamics, therefore, take two typical forms: a pair of forces in creative opposition or fusion and a forward-bound or productive drive aimed at more strength and life. The simplest paradigm combining both movements is, of course, the union of man and woman to create a child.
The argument of "Ad Valorem" moves toward the triumph of Eros, as Hard Times ends in its defeat. In Ruskin's climax we see a new nation rising, like children coming to maturity and replacing the blocking [214/215] figures that had temporarily taken the place of wisdom and delight, just as a productive economy takes the place of the old limited economy founded on mere fraudulent exchange.In this respect, of course, Unto This Last presents the structure of comedy as defined by Northrop Frye in Anatomy of Criticism, in particular 193, 181, 168-169, 171.12 In a sense Ruskin has just overthrown one set of blocking characters by refuting the bad economists, and we have seen that the third essay presents the wise ruler in the form of an allegorical portrait. The fourth essay presents an allegorical portrait of the bad capitalist by a reading of the Ixion myth:
Capital is the head, or fountain head of wealth — the "well-head" of wealth, as the clouds are the well-heads of rain: but when clouds are without water, and only beget clouds, they issue in wrath at last, instead of rain, and in lightning instead of harvest; whence Ixion is said first to have invited his guests to a banquet, and then made them fall into a pit filled with fire; which is the type of the temptation of riches issuing in imprisoned torment, — torment in a pit, (as also Demas' silver mine,) after which, to show the rage of riches passing from lust of pleasure to lust of power, yet power not truly understood, Ixion is said to have desired Juno, and instead, embracing a cloud (or phantasm), to have begotten the Centaurs; the power of mere wealth being, in itself, as the embrace of a shadow, — comfortless... but in its offspring, a mingling of the brutal with the human nature: human in sagacity — using both intellect and arrow; but brutal in its body and hoof, for consuming, and trampling down. For which sin Ixion is at last bound upon a wheel — fiery and toothed, and rolling perpetually in the air; — the type of human labour when selfish and fruitless (kept far into the Middle Ages in their wheel of fortune); the wheel which has in it no breath or spirit, but is whirled by chance only; whereas of all true work the Ezekiel vision is true, that the Spirit of the living creature is in the wheels, and where the angels go, the wheels go by them; but move no otherwise. [XVII, 99-101]
In this thickly woven grotesque — Ruskin would produce a great many more, to the eternal confusion of his readers — the psychic substructure of his argument bursts to the surface, providing in cryptic [215/216] form a diagnosis of the human soul deformed by avarice. We notice first that the Centaurs show both of the vices of capitalism, rapacity and deceit, which they "inherit" from the father's two sins, murder and lust; yet they are parthenogenic offspring, the product of a man and a cloud, or of a man and his phantasm, so that although Ixion has produced a race he is still "fruitless and selfish," having actually propagated himself as so many sins. As for the first of these crimes, Ruskin's editors note that in the Pindaric source, Ixion is "the first among the heroes to shed blood of kin craftily" (like Cain in the biblical tradition), the kinsman being Ixion's father-in-law. An oedipal pattern now comes clear: Ixion kills his father-in-law, then indulges in forbidden lust — the original of the lust for riches (but with an odd reversal of the oedipal situation: "lust of pleasure" Ruskin attributes to the murder, "lust of power" to the attempted rape). Both sins combine delusion and violence. By implication, the avarice of the capitalist is a compelled repetition of kinsman murder (competition) and misdirected lusts (greed that cannot be satiated). Men kill their kin for money, but the unsatiated hunger turns them to beasts. Clouds and flatulence, moreover, become the type of vanity — desire unappeasable because misdirected: clouds issue in wrath and lightning, Ixion embraces a cloud, Geryon grasps the air, and in a footnote, Dante's Plutus collapses like a sail swollen with wind (which suggests to Ruskin "the sudden and helpless operation of mercantile panic" — boom and bust, in a word). The wheel of Ixion combines both the natural elements of his sins, fire and air, becoming in effect a mechanized storm cloud. Ixion has become his own bondage, since his body has turned into a machine, not a living thing — in contrast to the vision of Ezekiel, which, like an organic system, is empowered from within. The mechanics of guilt, in other words, is regressive, dooming the sinner to enact his transgression forever in symbolic form. By extension, the whole capitalist system is such an obsessive repetition, ruled (as Ruskin says elsewhere) by Tisiphone, the goddess of retribution. We have here in brief the connection between money, guilt, compulsion, and repetition traced by Freud as well as something else: the two crimes, the acting out of infantile fantasy by an adult, are themselves regressions. The spiritual perversion of Mammonism is a solipsistic relationship to time.13
Ixion is the tragic prototype of wasted labor and destructive life. In the immediately preceding passage Ruskin offers as a parallel to this myth an account of fruitless goods. Like the man who reproduces himself[216/217] by embracing a phantasm, unproductive capital, according to Ruskin, is an aggregation of bulbs ("root producing root; bulb issuing in bulb, never in tulip; seed issuing in seed, never in bread"); or again, Prince Rupert's drops, "consummated in powder" (these playthings are bits of ground glass that explode when dropped); or yet again, like a plowshare reproducing other plowshares: "however the great cluster of polypous plough might glitter in the sun, it would have lost its function of capital." But the true purpose of the plow is "to grow bright in the furrow; rather with diminution of its substance, than addition, by the noble friction" (XVII, 98-99). The covert sexual implications of this imagery recall Steven Marcus's discussion of "genital economy" — the Victorian belief that sexual energy is limited and in perpetual danger of diminishment — corresponding precisely to a conception of economics as a science of scarcity.14 But for Ruskin, scarcity, both erotic and economic, is but the creation of hoarding. The image of physiological horror renders Benthamite "self-interest" into a gruesome pun (it is the self recreating itself in debased form like money), an antithetical generativity that is both sterile and monstrous, deriving from an absolute alienation of the body that then loses its proper function. (The "idiotic" body is useless to the state since, Ruskin tells us, "idiot" in Greek means "a person entirely occupied with his own concerns" [XVII, 87].) And of course the delusion of avarice is a vain wish to derive sustenance from one's own desires — the economists, for example, are "like children trying to jump on the heads of their own shadows; the money-gain being only the shadow of the true gain, which is humanity" (XVII, 102). Once again the airy produce of the pedant combines with the filthy produce of the miser. Finally, the parthenogenic product is destructive of life, issuing ultimately in war. Like a sexual perversion, "self-interest" is unnatural, producing ultimately and on the largest scale the materialized form of the Death-instinct in our time.
To this morbid procreation Ruskin opposes the generation of life — human fertility integrated into the cycle of vegetation. As the bulb issues in flower and the plough labors for grain, so is childbearing the type of all "positive" labor: "While the wife is said to be as the vine (for cheering), the children are as the olive branch, for praise: not for praise only, but for peace (because large families can only be reared in[217/218] times of peace): though since, in their spreading and voyaging in various directions, they distribute strength, they are, to the home strength, as arrows in the hand of the giant — striking here and there far away" (XVII, 97-98). Rearing, not begetting, Ruskin says in a footnote: "The praise is in the seventh season, not in OZOQY]l05, nor in ~UTakta, but in oZ(i)Qa" (XVII, g7n). In Galen's seven seasons, the year begins in spring, with the rising of the shoot in the ground, and ends with futalia (planting). But by making the third season (opora, the dog days, or season of ripe fruit) the seventh, Ruskin imagines a year beginning with planting and culminating with the fruit — just as conception fulfills itself in the "flower" of the child. In antithesis to the Centaurs, who throw the arrows of disruption, the human family is at peace; its "arrows" are the slow strength of growth through time and space. But procreation is only a special case, though the perfect "type," of generativity, which is the dominant activity of the productive economy. Gradually the metaphorical weight of Unto This Last has shifted from wealth to life (which is wealth viewed from a different angle), conceived first as a nourished and flowing energy, then as a growing energy. In the rhythm of continuous growth, there are two "beats," production and consumption. Of true production, Ruskin says, there are two kinds: "one of the seed, and one food; or production for the Ground, and for the Mouth.... And since production for the Ground is only useful with future hope of harvest, all essential production is for the Mouth; and is finally measured by the mouth; hence . . . consumption is the crown of production; and the wealth of a nation is only to be estimated by what it consumes" (XVII, 101). As the seed is to the flower and as conception is to the child and as the arrow of desire is to fulfillment, so is production to consumption, a cycle that repeats along with the seasons. In The Political Economy of Art, the central image was the storehouse, or "true" granary binding past and future, which actually creates its "store" by giving out. The dominant schema of Unto This Last is a similar circulating system, in which true saving is distribution and wealth is consumed not by the moth and rust but by the human. I speak of the substance of that flow as energy rather than matter, because matter is understood through its parts (it is analyzed), but energy is understood through its manifestations; and the four essays, building on one another, have treated that energy as affection, wealth, just nourishing and growing life (food and man). The subject of bad political economy, however, is lifeless and inert matter — "money-gain" not "mouth-gain." To confuse the two is to repeat the punishment of Midas, for whom excrement becomes aliment, but in Ruskin's alchemy, nature is converted from excrement to the gold that truly nourishes.
No wonder that modern man needs to learn how to content himself. For the ideology miscalled political economy is at bottom an attack on [218/219] the body and its needs, a blocking of nourishment by the products of vanity and of the peaceful and natural circuit of life energy by the desires of vanity. The Mammonist gospel divorces body and spirit, starving both: the rich are told that the only pleasures are basely material, the poor that the only holiness is renunciation. Ruskin's response is to reintegrate body and soul, making nature man's spiritual body. That body is organic. In Ruskin's myth of Ixion, what cannot grow or change seems condemned to duplicate itself; what cannot participate in the social body must embrace its own vanities (hoard). The connection between the mechanical and the offalous asserts itself when we see that self-duplication and compelled repetition ("bulb issuing in bulb" in one image pattern; the race of Centaurs and Ixion's wheel in another) have their social expression in the factory system of "The Nature of Gothic" — men as parts, labor as palsied repetition. Ixion, I said above, has a solipsistic relationship to the past; the natural cycle, on the other hand, pushes ever forward — children are arrows pressing into the future. Eros belongs to the present, ever consummating itself in the future. Earlier, we saw that the debt structure of money binds the poor to the rich and that mechanical exchange decrees that every man's wealth is someone else's need. Ruskin nowhere says so explicitly, yet his own image pattern strongly suggests that the productive economy frees humans from the bondage of debt and want and therefore from guilt and repression. The social system no longer springs from an original weakness and debt. Time is redeemed. For if time is money, it disappears the moment it is spent; hoarded, it turns into the delusions of Ulro (as money turns to illth). But time redeemed is wealth. On St. Mark's, wealth comes alive in the marble spray, which is the arrest of the temporal flux; in the productive economy, time is not arrested but flows onward in wealth, like a golden river.
For there is "no Wealth but Life": "That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings; that man is richest who, having perfected the functions of his own life to the utmost, has also the widest helpful influence, both personal, and by means of his possessions, over the lives of others" (XVII, 105). This passage, the climax of all Ruskin's social thought, confounds material goods with spiritual and possession with power, by means of the biblical paradox that to lose oneself is to save oneself. It means that the split between subject and object is healed — that what one is, what one does, what one gives, what one loves, are in the state of fulfillment a unity. It means many things, in fact, for the tremendous power of the aphorism is simply Unto This Last concentrated into six words. We can sum up at least three of Ruskin's several arguments, however, by three paraphrases of "There is no Wealth but Life": it means, first, that all things are valuable only as they serve real human needs; second, that spiritual [219/220] fulfillment is the experience of life energy both given and possessed, both expressed and preserved; and third, that the only true aim of an economic system is the raising of children and the manufacture of souls. It has yet another meaning suggested by the pages that follow, which form a kind of coda envisioning the productive economy extending throughout the land.
The habitable zones of the earth, Ruskin says, will then "be loveliest in habitation."
The desire of the heart is also the light of the eyes. No scene is continually and untiringly loved, but one rich by joyful human labour; smooth in field; fair in garden; full in orchard; trim, sweet, and frequent in homestead; ringing with voices of vivid existence. No air is sweet that is silent; it is only sweet when full of low currents of under sound — triplets of birds, and murmur and chirp of insects, and deep-toned words of men, and wayward trebles of childhood. As the art of life is learned, it will be found at last that all lovely things are also necessary; — the wild flower by the wayside, as well as the tended corn; and the wild birds and creatures of the forest, as well as the tended cattle; because man doth not live by bread only, but also by the desert manna; by every wondrous word and unknowable work of God. [XVII, 111]
What saves this passage from pastoral sentimentality is the multiplicity of its references. It seems that if the agricultural sector of the English economy is expanded to feed everyone adequately, the agrarian paradise will also correspond to a Paradise within, since an economy of abundance and cooperation will fulfill the spiritual craving of which the landscape hunger is one symptom and so, in a sense, will erase the divorce of city and country — partly because all production will follow an agricultural paradigm, that is, will be production for the mouth. Man will then be naturalized and nature humanized, because the love of beauty and the need of the body will be consummated at once, as aspects of each other. This immediacy of fulfillment, unknown in the fallen world except in the infant's bond with its mother, I take to be one meaning of "The desire of the heart is also the light of the eyes," a sentence worthy to stand beside a proverb of Solomon's or Blake's. But nature is redeemed as well: There is no natural wealth without human life, and no human wealth that does not flow from the life of nature. (In Blake's words, "Nature without man is barren.'')15 [220/221]
We come now to the last pages of all, in which Ruskin develops the theme of the "law of the house" through the familiar image of Wisdom: "thus it is said of Wisdom that she 'hath builded her house, and hewn out her seven pillars'; and even when. . . she has to leave her house and go abroad, her paths are peace also" (XVII, 113). Wisdom connects the house and the landscape, a center of peace expanding like ripples to make the world a garden and the household a world. The figure, as we have already seen in The Political Economy of Art, is a virtual commentary on the eighth and third chapters of Proverbs, picturing Wisdom both as housewife and as God's helpmate during the Creation. The phrase "the light of the eye" also alludes to her (Ruskin's editors compare it with Proverbs 15:30: "The light of the eyes rejoices the heart"), and there is perhaps an allusion to the creation passage in the description of the heavenly eagle "gazing forever on the light of the sun of justice." The eye of the eagle, we recall, is the just souls who are "to the whole human race, as the light of the body, which is the eye"; the "light of the body," however, is a phrase from the Sermon on the Mount ("The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness"). The image and the phrases return in the final sentences of the book, when Ruskin's poetic vision achieves its culmination:
but luxury at present can only be enjoyed by the ignorant; the cruelest man living could not sit at his feast, unless he sat blindfold. Raise the veil boldly; face the light; and if, as yet, the light of the eye can only be through tears, and the light of the body through sackcloth, go thou forth weeping, bearing precious seed, until the time come, and the kingdom, when Christ's gift of bread, and bequest of peace, shall be "Unto this last as unto thee." [XVII, 114][221/222]
In an essay on the Crystal Palace, Ruskin had imagined paupers appearing at a London dinner party, as though to rebuke those who were taking bread from their dying lips. The aim of Unto This Last is to lift the veil of willful blindness separating rich and poor, living and dying — to make these unbidden guests members of a household that is also a nation — and so, if necessary, to exchange the blindfold for tearful sight and the selfish bounty for sackcloth. The penitent bearing seed personifies the imminent period of abnegation before luxury "innocent and exquisite" can be possible for all and so harkens back to the Sybil of Modern Painters V, seen in the twilight of mourning and bearing the dust of the future. But the penitent also resembles our forebears leaving Eden and looks forward to the seeing "face to face" and, perhaps, the resurrection of the body. For "Raise the veil boldly" suggests clothing as well as a curtain. The spread of wealth to all would then be the transformation of the social body into that perfect organic system of which the crystal and the individual human body are the types, just as the Sybil Deiphobe is the body, so to speak, of human hope.
If such is Ruskin's meaning, it is a fit conclusion to his vision of individual and social transcendence, in which erotic energy is released through social affections and productive labor and in which the human experience of the world as alienated possession is replaced by sensuous interchange. But the vision is always practical as well. Ruskin's title bears what he elsewhere called a materialist reading of Scripture: the biblical parable is an allegory of the kingdom of heaven, the "last" being the latest convert to Christ, whereas Ruskin's kingdom is fulfillment in this world, attainable only through effort and sacrifice. In its most personal aspect, his social gospel follows upon the renunciation of hopes the older gospel once sustained — a facing down of things seen through tears: the suffering of the poor, the withdrawal of God, the finality of death, the fear as well as the beauty of the body. This is the felix culpa of Ruskin's tragic humanism.
Considered in such light, Unto This Last stands at the end of a great cycle of books. If we consider all the major works of 1851-1860, which I have called Ruskin's great decade, it is possible to see a single large movement, broken at many points, that begins with the rise and fall of a Venetian Paradise and concludes in a qualified vision of a redeemed kingdom that will survive the judgment upon the old. If we think of the books as prophecies, The Stones of Venice fits the type of the prophecy against Tyre. The later Modern Painters follows the fall of Judah, mingling sorrow with comfort, and Unto This Last, finally, preaches the flowering of the desert and the building of the Temple — the Temple, specifically, of Solomon as beheld by Sheba, except that the new Jerusalem will be splendid in the extent, not the glitter, of its wealth and the new rulers will be Princes of Peace. We might argue that these works [222/223] constitute the most ambitious approach in Victorian literature to a national epic, the product, it is important to note, not of an eccentric dreamer but of a true son of his times. The power and failures of Ruskin's social vision, as well as its perplexing mingling of boldness and reaction, come largely from its being an expression, as epics are, of the national dream. Ruskin far more often opposed what his countrymen practiced than what they preached-the disparity between the two results in a mixture of rebuke and conciliation. For Ruskin, the Victorians preached the submission of women, laborers, and children, the sacredness of home, the purity of sex, the grace of social behavior, the possible greatness of the nation, the spread of the Empire, the increase of wealth, and the authority of the Bible; they practiced the greed of riches, the hatred of the body, the starvation of the poor, the pollution of nature, and the authority of "political economy." In assailing the pride of the nation, Ruskin was working in a long-established tradition; by taking with extreme literalness the professions of the nation, he appeared mad. Unto This Last is an attempt to purify that nation through rebuke. By the same token, the book that acts out the beginning of a filial rebellion also carries the image of the elder Ruskins within it: by speaking in the persona of a merchant of wisdom and a "helpful" saint, he absorbs and perfects his parents for his own purposes.
Entered the Victorian Web December 2000; last modified 17 April 2015